Good people come to worship me for different reasons. Some come to the spiritual life because of suffering, some in order to understand life; some come through a desire to achieve life’s purpose, and some come who are men and women of wisdom. (BG, 7:16)
We don’t all seek God—or enlightenment—for the same reasons. This is a truth Hinduism has folded into its philosophy from the beginning. Human beings are born different. We have different spiritual antennae and resonate to different things. Some of us are looking for love and acceptance, others of us are looking for knowledge; some of us are driven by achievement, and others by freedom from expectations. This is not an exhaustive list. Through experience—which entails a lot of frustration and disappointment—all of these paths lead to wisdom, and toward a greater intimacy with God.
Judaism expresses these differences in story. Jacob was a cheater who got cheated, but through wit and struggle learned the suffering love of a husband and father. Moses was a privileged young man who started off thinking of justice as retribution, but through exile and an encounter with God learned that justice is about the complex, frustrating work of liberation and healing. Naomi was a widow, bitter at her loss, feeling abandoned by God, but found grace and provision through her relationship with her foreign-born daughter-in-law.
Feuerstein’s translation of the above passage describes the four kinds of people as “the afflicted, the desirous-of-knowledge, [those whose] object is the welfare of the world, and the knower.” I can easily think of people I know in my own life who fit all of those categories. They all have different personalities and stories, and their flavor of faith may look slightly different—but they radiate a quiet confidence in God and an acceptance of the world. Richard Rohr, the Franciscan mystic, often says that the three paths of spiritual growth are great love, great suffering, and contemplation. And as the Bible stories illustrate, great love almost always entails great suffering.
Krishna goes on to say that wisdom is the superior path, but Krishna has this habit of contradicting himself every few minutes. He will say “selfless service is the better way,” and then will say “meditation is the better way.” Whatever subject he’s speaking about at the moment, he will say, “this is the best.”
I suspect there is a tongue-in-cheek truth to this inconsistency. I met an ex-prisoner who referred to himself as “God’s favorite child,” but he was quick to say that it was true of everyone. I’ve heard stories of multiple members of the same family who were convinced they were grandma’s favorite because she told them each—in private—that they were her favorite. I think that as God considers Jacob, or Moses, or Naomi, or you or me, God would tell each of us that the way we came to know God was the “best” way.
God, I’m glad that I am your favorite. Bless my path, and the paths of all of us pilgrims.